previous sub-section
11 The Dynamics of Swahili Culture A Status-Centered View
next sub-section

Social Structure's Effect: Blocking and Channeling

Men say they believe and are aware that sanctioners act as though they believe that it is improper, impolitic, or shameful to be emotionally expressive and to accept emotional support. In their relations with all of those with whom the relationship is in any way open to observation, including those with mother, sister, and other female kin, such behavior is negatively evalu-


310

ated by those involved, including the men themselves. This is not true of women's relationships, most of which include expectations of emotional expressiveness.

The unique presence, for men, of emotionality in the spouse relationship needs to be seen in light of the fact that this relationship is carried on entirely in the privacy of the home with no one but family members ever seeing spouses together. It is not so much that the expectations in the spouse relationship openly and explicitly admit male dependence as it is that the privacy in which much of this relationship takes place makes its expression possible. Further, the positive evaluation of "love" between spouses encourages giving and accepting support and warmth. This support for husbands is not specifically called for and need not be recognized by either husbands or wives, but it is available in the spouse relationship, in large part as a consequence of love and privacy. A good deal of evidence has been cited in support of the hypothesis that men do, in fact, derive emotional support from their relationship with their wives even if they never talk about it or admit its presence.

As seen, from a cultural point of view, the shared understandings concerning the spouse relationship accord men complete control, so that the wives' power to get their husbands to give them money is de nihilo, or so it seems. In fact, the social structure of the Swahili community—or, more exactly, the unique character of the spouse relationship within the structure—is a key resource for wives in dealing with their husbands.

This is the key fact here, and it is the consequence of the differences in the whole set of statuses and roles focusing on husbands as contrasted with the set focusing on wives. This difference is the main basis for wives' power, which is to say that their power is directly attributable to the social structure, not, as we saw, the elements of culture that, in fact, give all power to the husband.

The statuses that make up the social structure are all culture and nothing but culture. The structure itself, however, is not just the sum of its cultural parts. It also involves the relations among these parts, including the effects relations have on one another because of the connections between them. Some of these connections are not the result of understandings in any community member's mind but of the effects relationships have on one another through the influence of their expectations "spilling over" into one another. Some such mutual effect of relations on one another is understood by participants, who know, for example, some or all of the ways an employer-employee relationship can affect a parent-child relationship. But the effect of one relationship on another can come about without such understandings through the meeting of the expectations in one or more relationships affecting the expectations in some other relationship.

This is just what is seen in the spouse relationship. The expectations restricting emotionality in all of men's other multiplex relationships give the


311

spouse relationship an importance for them it would not otherwise have and that, because of the different expectations in their multiplex relationships, it does not have for wives. Since social structure is a cultural product, culture's part is hardly a distant one. But its effects come from the way it channels behavior through expectations that encourage it here and block it there. There is no understanding to the effect that wives should spend substantial sums on weddings and bracelets even if husbands object. Quite the opposite. What there is, is a complex series of statuses and their roles that give wives alternatives for emotional gratification but give none to husbands.

Culture contains statuses that guide relationships and indicate what these relationships contain and do not contain. These have consequences for other relationships and the occupants of the statuses in those relationships. Wives' power is one of these consequences.


previous sub-section
11 The Dynamics of Swahili Culture A Status-Centered View
next sub-section